Judge reprimands Vasco, shutters youth lodging

Vasco da Gama has been ordered by a juvenile justice judge to

immediately suspend activities at its youth training facilities

because an investigation found teenage footballers were living in

”slave-like” conditions.

Judge Ivone Ferreira Caetana issued the ruling on Wednesday in

response to charges by state prosecutors who have been looking into

conditions at the club’s main youth facilities in Sao Januario

since 2009.

It was only in February, after a 14-year-old boy died while

trying out in Itaguai, a more remote training center, that

investigators even learned of the existence of that facility, which

housed dozens of boys aged from 13 to 17.

Since then, they’ve learned there were no doctors available on

site when the boy, Wendel Venancio da Silva, died.

In an investigation since then, prosecutors found the boys were

lodged in deplorable conditions and not fed enough as they were

pushed through a grueling routine that left them with little time

for school, said main prosecutor Clisanger Ferreira Goncalves in a

statement.

In addition to denouncing the teenagers’ poor housing and

nutrition and their strenuous schedule, prosecutors also charged

the club with transporting the teenagers in an unsafe vehicle,

failing to provide them with medical care, and exposing them to

unsanitary facilities.

”The decision was made to safeguard the most fundamental rights

of dozens of the teenagers, aged 13 through 17, who are being

violently disrespected by the club,” the judge said. ”The

conditions these children are exposed to are slave-like.”

Calls and an email requesting comment from Vasco got no

response.

As of Thursday, Vasco had five days to start improving the

situation. If the judge’s orders are not followed within 30 days,

the club faces a fine of $16,000 a day.

In the meantime, the club is prohibited from using the

facilities at Itaguai for training or housing young players.

The judge ruled that youths should eat with the professional

players, and be trained at Sao Januario, where the facilities were

better but needed to be fixed in five days. The problems at Sao

Januario include dorm rooms without ventilation, old and torn

mattresses, and water rationing.

About 20 teenagers are from other states and have difficulty

seeing their families because the club won’t pay for their

transportation. This also must be changed, the court said.

Prosecutor Goncalves has been involved with the investigation of

Sao Januario for three years. She spent the last year negotiating

terms of improvement with the club in meetings often attended by

the president, Roberto Dinamite.

She thought the club had agreed to improve conditions when

14-year-old Silva died at the Itaguai site, which had never been

disclosed to prosecutors.

”The conditions at the Sao Januario training center were not

ideal, but we made suggestions and thought they were being

followed,” she said in a statement. ”But they were lying, and

using the Itaguai site. What we found there is an affront to the

basic rights of children and teenagers.”

Exploitation of young players with dreams of making it big was a

common phenomenon in Brazil, but one that’s never been addressed by

FIFA or by the clubs that benefit from the sales of these young

players, said Christopher Gaffney, a Brazil-based academic who has

written about local football.

”The economy of football depends on unpaid adolescent labor,”

Gaffney said. ”This is a global phenomenon that the Brazilian

clubs exploit to their advantage.”

Other big clubs in Rio are also under scrutiny, prosecutors

said.

Flamengo was facing an investigation after a 14-year-old hurt

himself within their facilities. Botafogo and Fluminense are faced

administrative inquiries into the conditions of their youth

training centers.

In five days, a team of social workers, psychologists and law

enforcement officials will visit Vasco’s training grounds to check

on progress.